Tenses and structures used to describe the future:

The adventures of Fred, and his future attempts to paint his bedroom

Just as the Eskimos have several words for snow, so the English language makes use of several tenses and constructions to describe the future.

There is a full article on this subject included in the TEE book, but I thought I'd elaborate on this further by choosing one situation example and how it can be described when we're thinking about the time ahead.

And my goodness me. I didn't just open a can of worms*. It turned out to be a whole canister**.

So upon reading this I really suggest you don't take it all as absolute fact as, to be honest, neither will every single native speaker of English. Well, perhaps except the grammar pedants.

So meet Fred below.

Here is the situation. He plans (or may plan, or may plan to get someone else) to paint his bedroom, and this plan is in the next twenty-four hours. So how would we describe this particular future action?

Present simple

Fred paints his bedroom tomorrow. Everything is set up and ready.

This focuses on the scheduled act. This is something planned and scheduled. When it comes to fixed plans and timetables, such as with arrangements - like painting the bedroom for a scheduled time in the future - we use the present simple. We are also assuming the job will be completed tomorrow.

 

Fred doesn't paint his bedroom tomorrow. I think it's the day after he does the job.

The act is not planned for tomorrow, although this could suggest that it was scheduled for tomorrow. It is now planned for Friday.

 

Does Fred paint his bedroom tomorrow? I don't remember if he said so or not.

The speaker thinks the job is for tomorrow, but they are not certain, so they are asking to find out.

 

Paint your bedroom tomorrow Fred, okay? And no arguments, please.

This is a command. Painting the bedroom is scheduled for tomorrow, according to the speaker, and it seems that Fred is obliged to do the job, whether he wants to or not.

Present continuous

Fred is painting his bedroom tomorrow. Everything is set up and ready and he's planning to start early.

The speaker is talking about a planned future activity that is a very definite arrangement. Probably the paints and brushes have all been organised and the period (tomorrow) for Fred to paint the bedroom is set.

Fred is painting his bedroom tomorrow, whether he likes it or not.

The speaker is saying that Fred is definitely doing this activity tomorrow. But it's also entirely possible that Fred doesn't want to do the job but he's got no choice!

Fred isn't painting his bedroom tomorrow.

Fred is not going to do paint his bedroom tomorrow, but that doesn't mean he won't do the painting. Either the painting is still planned at some point in the future, or he's been reassigned to do something else, or the speaker simply doesn't want him to do any painting tomorrow!

Is Fred painting his bedroom tomorrow?

The speaker is asking the listener for confirmation that Fred is painting his bedroom for certain tomorrow as they are not sure if Fred is doing the job. Or maybe the speaker doesn't really believe that Fred is going to do it!

Present continuous with 'going to'

Fred is going to paint his bedroom tomorrow. He's planning to get the paint and brushes later today and he's been talking about it for a while.

The speaker is stating that Fred painting the bedroom is a planned future action for tomorrow. It also suggests an intention to do the painting, although it's possible that there is no paint yet, and the organisation has not been fixed...

Fred is going to paint his bedroom tomorrow. I'm making sure of that.

The speaker has decided that this is the intention tomorrow. It may well be that Fred doesn't even know that he's going to paint his bedroom tomorrow!

Fred isn't going to paint his bedroom tomorrow. He says he's busy, but I don't believe him.

The speaker is stating that Fred is not intending to paint his bedroom tomorrow, but this doesn't mean he won't do it at all - this may well happen on another day in the future.

Are you going to paint your bedroom tomorrow, Fred? After all, you've been saying you would for a long time.

This is a question from the speaker to Fred about an intended arrangement. This could be a reminder for Fred to paint his bedroom tomorrow, or the speaker has already decided this is going to happen but it is news to Fred.

Simple future - future happenings

Fred will paint his bedroom tomorrow. He's all ready to go with his paint and brushes!

Here, will + infinitive (paint) suggests an planned intention with the same meaning as painting his bedroom. So the speaker is stating that Fred will do this action for sure tomorrow.

Fred won't paint his bedroom tomorrow. He's got to study for his exams. 

Fred doesn't plan to paint his bedroom, but this doesn't mean he won't at all; there may be a reason why he's not doing the job tomorrow. It can also mean that Fred doesn't know yet that he's not going to paint his bedroom tomorrow because the speaker has decided that he needs to study first!

Will Fred paint his bedroom tomorrow? He said he would, but I know he's lazy and sometimes forgets or decides on doing something else.

There is a plan for Fred to do the painting, according to the speaker, but will he do it tomorrow? Nobody knows for sure because he does get distracted.

Will Fred paint his bedroom?

From the speaker's point of view, they are asking if Fred will do this job at any point in the future, or ever?

Will you paint your bedroom tomorrow, Fred? You did say you would. 

The asker is introducing a question about Fred's future intentions that is, painting his bedroom.

Simple future - agreed at the time of speaking

I know what Fred will do tomorrow. He will paint his bedroom. He likes painting. I think.

Although the same structure as the intention above (will + infinitive [paint]), this suggests that the intention has not been planned, and the decision to paint the bedroom has been made at the time of speaking.

You will paint your bedroom tomorrow Fred, won't you? We don't want to leave the job too late.

A question where the asker is either checking that Fred will do his job or they are simply reminding him (by adding more stress to 'will') that he's got this job to do tomorrow and they expect the job to be done!

Will you paint the bedroom for me tomorrow, Fred? You're not doing anything else then.

This is a request or invitation about an intention, or it could even be a command with stress on 'Fred'.

Fred won't paint his bedroom tomorrow. He's not well. 

This has just been decided by the speaker, so tomorrow's job of painting the bedroom is not going to happen.

Shall - an intention to do something

Fred shall paint his bedroom tomorrow.

Fred's going to paint his bedroom tomorrow, even if he doesn't realise it yet.

Fred shall paint his bedroom tomorrow after he gets the paint.

He's going to paint his bedroom after getting the paint. It's probably planned and Fred knows this or even intends to do it.

Shall Fred paint the bedroom tomorrow?

Do you think it's a good idea that Fred paints his bedroom tomorrow?

Shall I paint it now instead of tomorrow?

Fred suggests today - not tomorrow as originally planned - would be a better idea to paint the bedroom.

Fred shan't paint his bedroom tomorrow.

He's not going to paint his bedroom tomorrow. This is a fact, according to the speaker, although Fred may not know about this.

Future continuous - planned activity

Fred will be painting his bedroom tomorrow.

This shows that the activity of painting his room will begin tomorrow and continue afterwards. The painting will happen in the normal course of events or it will be a routine action.

Fred won't be painting his bedroom tomorrow.

Fred's not going to do the job tomorrow, but that doesn't mean he won't do the painting at some point. Although the meaning here is very much the same as the one for 'Fred isn't painting his bedroom tomorrow' - as in the painting is still planned at some point in the future, or he's been reassigned to do something else - it is also possible that the speaker has just made the decision to not allow him to do any painting tomorrow.

Will Fred be painting his bedroom tomorrow?

The same as 'Is Fred going to paint his bedroom tomorrow?', with the additional point that the speaker has just thought about the possibility - perhaps because they believe he is not doing anything else tomorrow.

Will you be painting your bedroom tomorrow, Fred?

The speaker has just thought of the idea, or they believe there was a plan to do the job - either by Fred or someone else.

Future continuous - in the middle of doing something

This time tomorrow Fred will be painting his bedroom, so you won't be able to play Fortnite with him.

At a particular time tomorrow - the time that Fred's friend wants him to play Fortnite - this will happen to be the time that Fred will be painting his bedroom. It doesn't make it clear if Fred's just started painting, in the middle of the activity, or even about to finish the activity, but what we do know is that he will be doing that activity at the time his friend wants to play!

Fred won't be painting his bedroom at 5.00pm, so both of you can play Fortnite!

The listener has received news that his friend Fred is not painting his room tomorrow (for whatever reason) and so they are both free to play online computer games!

Will you be painting your bedroom tomorrow afternoon, Fred? I heard you saying you were planning to play Fortnite tomorrow.

The speaker is questioning Fred as to whether he is supposed to be painting his bedroom tomorrow afternoon when he perhaps said he was going to play Fortnite around that period.

Future perfect

Fred will have painted his bedroom by this time tomorrow.

By a certain time tomorrow, Fred will complete the job of painting his bedroom!

Fred won't have painted his bedroom by this time tomorrow.

Fred may (or may not) have a plan to finish his bedroom by a certain time tomorrow, but for sure the speaker believes that he will not complete this job by that time.

Will Fred have painted his bedroom by this time tomorrow?

The speaker is not sure if Fred will complete the job of painting his bedroom in 24 hours time.

Future perfect continuous

By this time tomorrow, Fred will have been painting his bedroom for three hours.

Let's say, for example, that the statement above is made at 1pm, so this would show that Fred will start painting his room at some point before then (in this case, it would be three hours earlier at 10am), and so at 1pm tomorrow the speaker is certain he will still be painting his room. The job will not yet be completed. 

Fred won't have been painting his bedroom for three hours by this time tomorrow.

The speaker seems certain that Fred will have, at some point, paused with the job of painting his bedroom, perhaps even stopped, or that the speaker is just simply expressing a lack of confidence in Fred's ability to be painting his bedroom for three hours continuously.

Is it true that by this time tomorrow Fred will have been painting his bedroom for three hours?

The speaker is perhaps expressing the fact that they don't really believe, or they are surprised to learn, that Fred will still be continuously painting for a period of three hours in exactly 24 hours time.

Future passive

The bedroom will be painted tomorrow.

This shows that the job of painting Fred's bedroom is planned for tomorrow, but unless we make it clear who the agent or doer is (hopefully it's Fred!), this additional information may not be important or relevant.

The bedroom won't be painted tomorrow.

The speaker is certain the job of painting Fred's bedroom will not happen tomorrow - by Fred or by anybody else. As to why, this may or may not be specified.

Will the bedroom be painted tomorrow?

The speaker is asking if someone (maybe Fred?) will paint Fred's bedroom tomorrow - if the job is going to be done at all, as they are not certain of this.

Future passive continuous

The bedroom will be being painted at the time you hope to be playing Fortnite with Fred.

This focusses on the overall activity tomorrow from start to finish from the perspective of the speaker, who knows the person who hopes to play Fortnite with Fred. But, as with the future passive, the doer may not be important or relevant, although from the context it is most likely going to be Fred.

The bedroom won't be being painted at the time you hope to be playing Fortnite with Fred. He's not painting the bedroom until the weekend, so you can play!

This is clearly good news being given to the person who hopes to play Fortnite with Fred at a time when Fred (or even somebody else) was expected to be painting his bedroom tomorrow.

Will the bedroom be being painted at the time Fred hopes to be playing Fortnite with his friend tomorrow?

Grammatically correct as a question - the asker is unsure of the situation and is seeking confirmation with the listener - but to be realistic, I really don't know of any native speakers who have actually had this kind of conversation where such a situation exists, so you really don't need to worry about it, or you use it at your own risk. 

Causative in the future (Present perfect)

Fred has his bedroom painted tomorrow.

This tells us that the job of painting Fred's bedroom is going to be done tomorrow, but rather like the passive, the doer is not always specified. But it still could be Fred.

Fred doesn't have his bedroom painted tomorrow. It's going to be the following day.

This tells us that the job of painting Fred's bedroom is NOT going to be done tomorrow, but rather like the passive, the doer is not always specified. But it still could be Fred.

Will Fred have his bedroom painted tomorrow?

The asker is perhaps uncertain if the job of painting Fred's bedroom is going to be done tomorrow, or maybe they are surprised to learn that the job is, in fact, going to be done tomorrow. As before, the doer is not always specified, but it still could be Fred.

Causative in the future (Present perfect continuous)

Fred is having his bedroom painted tomorrow.

This suggests that somebody else has made the arrangements to paint Fred's bedroom, but in this case, it is extremely likely that another agent/doer will be doing the job, and they will be doing it for Fred.

Fred isn't having his bedroom painted tomorrow. It's going to be the following day.

There is a delay in the painting of Fred's bedroom, and so it will happen two days later. As before, it's more than likely that someone else is doing the job and not Fred.

Is Fred having his bedroom painted tomorrow?

Is the job of painting Fred's bedroom -  by someone - is going to happen tomorrow or not?

Causative in the future (Future perfect)

Fred will have his bedroom painted tomorrow.

The job of painting Fred's bedroom is all arranged for tomorrow, and it's probably by some professional painters.

Fred won't have his bedroom painted tomorrow. They called and they can't come to do the job.

The job of painting Fred's bedroom was planned for tomorrow but for some reason this is not going to happen. (And as 'they' is used, clearly, this was not going to be Fred's job.)

Will Fred have his bedroom painted tomorrow? I don't know if the painters have confirmed this.

The speaker is unsure that Fred's bedroom is going to be painted tomorrow by the people with whom this has been arranged.

Causative in the future (Future perfect continuous)

Fred will be having his bedroom painted tomorrow.

This is all fixed and arranged and will happen for sure. It's likely to be done by a, or more than one, painter. It's not likely - but not impossible - that it will be Fred; but the speaker may add: '...but he doesn't realise that he's doing it!'

Fred won't be having his bedroom painted tomorrow. There's been a delay in getting the right paint.

The job was planned for tomorrow but, because of the problem of not getting the right paint, it won't. The job is most likely being done by someone else and not Fred.

Will Fred be having his bedroom painted tomorrow? I need to know as I have to take his bed out!

The speaker doesn't know if Fred's bedroom is going to be painted tomorrow. As to who is doing the job, this could be Fred or someone else; but this is not important.

Future in the past

Fred decided he would paint the bedroom the following day.

The speaker understands that Fred made a decision yesterday about tomorrow's job of painting his bedroom.

Fred didn't decide yesterday if he would paint the bedroom the following day.

Fred may or may not made a decision to paint his bedroom, but for sure this decision was not made yesterday.

Did Fred decide yesterday to paint the bedroom tomorrow?

Did Fred make a decision yesterday or not about painting his bedroom tomorrow?

Reported speech

Fred told me that he would paint the bedroom the following day.

This is information that you know was given to you yesterday by Fred, and that he said he was going to paint his bedroom the next day.

Fred didn't tell me that he was going to paint his bedroom tomorrow.

There is news that Fred is going to paint his bedroom tomorrow, but the speaker didn't know this as they didn't get this news from Fred.

Did Fred tell you that he would paint the bedroom tomorrow?

The speaker is asking because Fred didn't tell them, but so is checking with the listener if they were told by Fred that he would do the job tomorrow and they want to be sure.

First Conditional

If Fred paints his bedroom tomorrow, he'll get a reward. It is not certain that Fred will paint his bedroom tomorrow, but should he choose to do so and complete the job, he will be given a present or bonus for doing so.

What will you do if Fred doesn't paint his bedroom tomorrow?

It is not certain that Fred will paint his bedroom tomorrow, and should he choose NOT to do so, the speaker is asking about what may be the results or consequences to the listener of this job not being done.

If Fred paints his bedroom tomorrow, will you be happy?

Fred may, or may not, paint his bedroom tomorrow. But if he does, the speaker is asking how the person would feel should the job be completed tomorrow.

Second Conditional

If Fred painted his bedroom tomorrow, he would get a reward.

It is unlikely, but not impossible (like winning the big prize in a lottery) that Fred will paint his bedroom tomorrow, but in the unlikely event that he chooses to do so and complete the job, he will be given a present or bonus for doing it.

If Fred painted his bedroom tomorrow, would he get a reward? 

It is unlikely, but not impossible (like winning the big prize in a lottery) that Fred will paint his bedroom tomorrow, but in the unlikely event that he chooses to do so and complete the job, the asker is enquiring if Fred would be given a present or bonus for completing this.

What would you do if Fred painted his bedroom tomorrow? Would you be very happy?

Fred is unlikely to paint his bedroom tomorrow, but in the unlikely event that he chooses to do so and complete the job, the asker is enquiring how the listener would feel about this.

Future Semiconditionally Modified Subinverted Plagal Past Subjunctive Intentional***

Is there any I've missed out? please write to me and let me know!

* A can of worms is an idiomatic expression meaning 'A complex, troublesome situation that has happened as a result of a decision or an action which produces considerable subsequent problems'.

** A canister is a kind of metal container that can store things such as flour or sugar. It is usually bigger than a can.

*** And in case you're wondering, no, this does NOT exist. It's a structure that comes from the wonderfully warped imagination of author Douglas Adams.

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